Connecticut has the best campaign finance laws in the country, designed to prevent the corrupting influence of big-money donors.
A federal court ruling Tuesday ought to end the Democratic Governors Association's attempt to eviscerate those laws.
On Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall denied the group's request for a preliminary injunction that could have stopped the state from enforcing the laws.
Let's hope that's enough to deter the group from further legal action.
What's At Stake
The DGA wants to spend a lot of money in support of the governor's re-election campaign while having the governor fundraise for it. State law frowns on this, for good reason. The DGA's lawsuit challenged that law.
If the DGA were to succeed, candidates could raise money from special interests, who would then spend it on their behalf in so-called "independent expenditures" — which really wouldn't be independent because they're coordinated.
Allowing that cozy relationship could bring back the sort of pay-for-play deals that landed Republican Gov. John G. Rowland in prison a decade ago and helped earned this state the nickname "Corrupticut."
The DGA argues, however, that the law interferes with its First Amendment right to spend as it wishes on the governor's campaign.
That would make a mockery of Connecticut's campaign finance reform.
How It Works
The Democratic Governors Association raises money through members-only "policy conferences." General admission to a recent DGA fundraiser in Hartford went for $10,000; platinum sponsorships were $100,000.
This is a back-door way for corporate and union members to shower money on candidates, making them beholden once in office.
Because the DGA is a classified as a "527," a tax-exempt political organization, it can't advocate directly for a candidate by saying "Vote for so-and-so." But it can offer support with, for example, issue ads attacking a rival.
Federal courts have said that 527s can spend as they please on a candidate's behalf as long as they don't coordinate — the critical word — with a candidate's campaign. What the DGA wants to do for Mr. Malloy looks like coordination, as state law defines it.
In 2010, the DGA spent $1.7 million in negative ads against Mr. Malloy's Republican opponent, Tom Foley, slightly more than the Republican Governors Association spent on Mr. Foley's behalf. (Neither organization, by the way, disclosed its spending until the state investigated.) The following year, Mr. Malloy raised more than $20 million for the DGA as its finance chairman, and he continues to host fundraisers.
Any DGA spending on him now would now look as if the two were scratching each other's backs.
Good-government groups throughout the land — from Common Cause to the League of Women Voters — have been alarmed about the DGA lawsuit, and rightly so.
They're concerned that Democrats are using the conservative rhetoric of the Supreme Court majority in Citizens United v. FEC, equating money with speech, to dismantle Connecticut's clean-election laws.
The head of the DGA, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, once called Citizens United "anti-democratic." Gov. Malloy called it a "tragic decision" that "reversed years of campaign finance reforms and allowed unlimited private money into politics, empowering the wealthy few at the expense of our democracy."
Now their organization is embracing it, and the two governors have done nothing to stop the lawsuit.
Three Democratic candidates for governor in Rhode Island have pledged to discourage outside money in their primaries. Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown also signed the "People's Pledge" limiting outside spending in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. Mr. Malloy and Mr. Foley should do the same.
Taxpayer funding of campaigns was sold to the Connecticut people as a way to keep politics transparent and clean. If it no longer serves that purpose, then its continuance would be questionable.Copyright © 2015, CT Now